Hope For Stomach Cancer gets to know Jerome White, a 35-year-old from Northern Virginia who received his stage four gastric cancer diagnosis in 2021. He speaks about the importance of positivity, perseverance, and hope, despite a frightening prognosis.
Q: Hello Jerome, thank you for speaking with us today. Please tell me a bit about yourself, along with the story of how you received your stage four gastric cancer diagnosis.
A: I live in Virginia with my wife and two kids, ages eight and four. Leading up to my diagnosis in 2021, I had various stomach and gastrointestinal issues. I’d grown up with a dairy allergy and had sharp stomach pains every once in a while. The problems intensified when I had hemorrhoids, which turned into an anal fistula and ulcer (h.pylori). A fistula is a small tunnel in the anus that connects an abscess to the outer opening of the anus.
I dealt with this problem on three separate occasions, and it was always painful and inconvenient. My wife encouraged me to go to the ER once it got very bad. They referred me to an anal surgical specialist, which I visited five different times. His recommendation was that I visit a GI specialist. There was a two-month wait for an appointment, so from June to August 2021, I had to endure a brutal wait.
Visiting with the GI
Meanwhile, the anal fistula continued to spread. I was in terrible pain – I had to walk with a cane and could barely stand up straight. One day, I began throwing up violently and couldn’t stop. After a trip to the ER, I managed to see a GI professional. They conducted an endoscopy, did some scans, and found an ulcer and it tested positive for H. Pylori.
September 15th, 2021, was an exciting day for my family – we were closing on our new home. As I was heading to the appointment to sign the paperwork, I got a call from the doctor. He told me that I needed to come in right away. Surprised, I asked if we could at least wait until tomorrow.
Stage Four Gastric Cancer
I went to see the doctor the next day. Heading into the appointment, I felt confident that my problems were related to Crohn’s disease, which I’d been diagnosed with before. It seemed to make sense given the anal fistulas, which are often associated with Crohn’s.
However, the doctor had much bigger news for me: I had stomach cancer. Originally, he had found an ulcer in my stomach. A follow-up endoscopy revealed a tumor hiding behind the ulcer. I was completely bewildered; it seemed like they had the wrong person. Cancer is something that happens to older people – not a 34-year-old in good health. I felt completely unprepared to receive the news, especially because I’d gone to the doctor’s office alone thinking that it was a routine visit.
Sitting alone in my car, I cried as I tried to make sense of the situation. I called my dad and let my wife know about my stomach cancer diagnosis. She came straight home from work, and we discussed everything that the GI doctor had told me. It was overwhelming imaging how to explain this to my kids. After getting a recommendation for an oncologist, I called their office as soon as I could. While speaking with a nurse on the phone, I began to break down. She reassured me that I could not give up hope, and instructed me to ask for her once I came to the hospital.
Q: What a shocking diagnosis to receive, especially while being alone at the doctor’s office. Now that you had this information, what did your treatment plan look like?
A: I received my stage four gastric cancer diagnosis on September 30th, 2021, and jumped straight into treatment two weeks later. My treatment plan involved four rounds of FLOT, a partial gastrectomy with HIPEC, and then four more rounds of FLOT. My cancer was advanced, and without treatment, the doctor said I’d likely live 1-1.5 years more. So I was grateful that my healthcare team jumped into action immediately to save my life.
My first treatment went quite smoothly. I remember thinking that I’d be able to manage if every treatment was like the initial one. However, each round of FLOT got harder and harder. Dealing with cold sensitivity and feeling foggy-headed most of the time, it was a struggle to do simple things, like cooking eggs. Despite this, I continued to work from home as a Consultant for the Department of Homeland Security through my treatments.
Around my second or third treatment, I had a full-blown asthma attack. My airway closed up completely, and we had to use an epi-pen to stop the reaction.
The Partial Gastrectomy
My care team recommended that we save as much stomach as possible. They were able to preserve 40 percent of my stomach during the partial gastrectomy procedure. Since I was facing stage four gastric cancer, it was important to have this surgery as soon as possible.
Thankfully, the procedure went smoothly. I was on the operating table for 13 hours. I recall feeling intense back pain when I woke up after so many hours of laying in the same position. The surgeon told me I’d be able to head home within two weeks. I remember the third day after my surgery was particularly dark. I was vomiting constantly, I had a painful IV in my neck, and I was just feeling terrible overall. My nurse, Monica, helped lift my spirits that day. We went on a walk, prayed, and read scriptures together. She shared her experiences with me as a survivor of breast cancer. This was a turning point for me: I knew I had to keep fighting for my wife, my kids, and myself.
With renewed motivation, I managed to leave the hospital on day six. I remember my wife picked me up and we had a bonfire at home. I resumed my FLOT treatments after the surgery, and before I knew it, my entire course of treatment was over.
I went in for scans and a follow-up visit this past summer. Treatment was such a whirlwind; I finished multiple rounds of FLOT and had a major surgery within a short span of time. Incredibly, I learned that I was in remission! It was wonderful to receive this exciting news.
Q: Congratulations on that wonderful news! It’s fantastic to hear that you are disease-free. What gives you hope after facing stomach cancer?
A: I know I have a unique perspective to share with the world after facing stage four gastric cancer. After my treatments ended, I resigned from my job, and have been focusing on my passion for filmmaking, photography, and storytelling.
I remember going on YouTube when I got my diagnosis and looking for stomach cancer content. There was barely anything out there apart from videos made by doctors or clinics. Now, I’m focused on putting out information to help others. My Pastor jokingly calls me “the neighborhood hope dealer” because I’m trying to spread as much positivity as I can. I always encourage people to disregard the numbers – no matter what stage you’re at, no matter how long they say that you have, there is always hope for the future.
Check out his blog: https://sixpgc.com/blog/category/Life